Pennsylvania’s elk herd has moved from a once disappearing population to one that is now thriving, according to local conservation experts.

Viewing the elk herd has become a tourist phenomenon in the Benezette area, and a family’s favorite tradition to view Pennsylvania’s largest mammal in its natural habitat.

Elk are three or four times the size of deer, and bulls can have antlers that extend 4 feet away from their head, said Jeremy Banfield, elk biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. They are least active in the middle of the day, and most active a few hours before dawn or dusk.

In early days, elk herds roamed across much of the east coast, but disappeared by the 1870s due to unregulated hunting, according to the PGC. In the early 1920s, 177 elk were released to 10 different Pennsylvania counties.

Habitat management, public awareness, increased human presence in the elk range and deterrent fencing are a few protective measures that have been taken to preserve the elk the roughly 1,000 elk in Pennsylvania, according to the PGC.

Each wild cow elk can live an average of 10 years, while a bull lives an average of eight. There was a Pennsylvania cow on record that lived to see 32 years, according to the PGC.

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Carla Wehler, Operations Manager of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, said about 1,100 elk is considered a herd. Elk are grazers, and eat a variety of fobs and grasses. In the winter time, they will paw through snow to reach grass, or they will eat twigs, buds and tree bark. Pennsylvania elk look for aspen, willow and flowering dogwood among trees and shrubs.

Although elk may look large and scary, they tend to mind their own business. The mammals aren’t too bothered by the presence of people, but experts still advise visitors to view them from a safe distance. Elk can move quickly and aggressively to defend their calves.

For more information on the elk herd, visit www.pgc.pa.gov.

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